The Player’s Handbook, from every edition of d&d, has contained a list of spells, both for wizards and clerics, as well as a complete listing of each of those spells. Naturally, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. For many years, I have used something a bit different.
Do you remember when you first started playing d&d and everything was new and mysterious? I remember laying down on the couch one sunny afternoon and reading through the spell list, discovering all the amazing things a wizard could do. Shortly, I knew the full extent of what it meant to be a wizard. It was very exciting.
But when you take something mysterious, and fully define it, completely understand what it is, that thing stops being mysterious. It loses its magic. That’s how I started to feel about the list of spells. I knew them all. I could even recite the details of most of the spells. There were no surprises left. I decided that I didn’t want to take that mystery away from my players.
Regular readers know that my game is quite different from the “rules as written”. I’ve created a specialized Player’s Handbook for my players, specific to my game. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in the past, but my Player’s Handbook does not contain any spells. Not even a spell list.
New players, like new wizards, have an overall notion of what a wizard can do. But spells must be discovered. Specifics are learned over time. Clerics are treated in much the same way. For new players, I feel that this maintains the mystery. The discovery of a new spell is then always exciting. There is also a continual sense of wonderment as to what yet might still be out there.
This extends to long-time players as well. I have added many spells, removed others, changed the names of quite a few, and altered the specifics significantly. Players who have memorized the standard d&d spells are no longer wizarding experts, knowledgeable in every spell and therefore fully aware of what enemy spell-casters can do. Instead, players only know what they have discovered so far.
When a player creates a new wizard, she rolls for spells and I print them out one to a page. When she learns new spells, I print them out as well. Obviously, this requires some preparation. But it works much more smoothly than you probably imagine. The v3.5 System Reference Document has the full text of all of the spells. With the exception of some few spells being added or removed, or having their names changed, the entire text is almost identical to that from 1st edition. With some editing, you can use this as a base for whatever edition you use. Note that 5th edition is the exception as they actually edited the spell entries and (to my knowledge) there is not, as yet, a 5.0 SRD.
Players can simply place these spell pages in a three-punch notebook and call it good. But it is also a rather simple matter of creating elaborate spellbooks!
The most straight-forward method is to use a comb-binding machine. You can buy one starting around $40. Or you can probably find one at Kinkos, or a similar business, that will let you use theirs for just the cost of materials (around $1.00). The benefit of comb-binding is that you can re-open the comb to add pages at any point, and replace the comb with a larger size to accommodate any document from just a couple of pages to many hundreds.
Use some heavy stock paper to create an ornate cover, front and back, place the pages between, and you have a pretty amazing custom spellbook. Standard 8 ½ x 11 pages work pretty well, but I think 5 ½ x 8 ½ (half a page) looks better.
If you prefer, you can use some heavy felt, or similar material, to wrap around the book, with sleeves to fit around the front and back cover. That hides the fact that it is a comb-binding book and gives it a more ancient look.
Obviously, there are a great many other book-binding options, limited only by your creativity and desire.
My players have been extremely happy with their custom spellbooks. I like that this approach maintains the mystery inherent in the spell-casting classes.
A truly inspired player could re-write the spells in hand-drawn calligraphy script and add artwork to turn their spellbook into an amazing piece of artwork!